Movie Review: Judy

If there was ever a handbook written to instruct someone who chooses a life in the spotlight, either as a famous singer, actor or social media celebrity it would include the realization that having talent is a small part of the equation of being famous. You also need the courage to stand in front of a huge audience and perform. You need very thick skin to ignore the cruel critics and the hecklers. You need to be able to deal with long periods of time when you are not performing and are either traveling to another performance or killing time in yet another bland and depressing Hotel room. You need to handle your finances and never overspend, or worse, never marry the the wrong person or persons and then lose a fortune in a divorce. In the case of Judy Garland, she was married an incredible 5 times.

None of this has ever been easy for anyone who has tried to make it in show business and for Judy Garland, her career started at the very young age of 2. Then she was handed off to the Hollywood studio system when in the 30’s and 40’s, the big studios owned and manipulated all of their actors like they were commodities. With Judy Garland, these same Hollywood executives also hooked her on drugs, that followed her for the rest of her life. After watching the biopic “Judy” starring Rene Zellweger, I remember thinking that just like Whitney Houston, Judy Garland would have been far better off just being an average singer and actor, rather than the global star she eventually became. The reason is, just like Whitney Houston, Judy Garland was not equipped to deal with the stress and the many downsides of being hugely famous. What good is potential fame and fortune, when you die at a young age?

Almost exactly like Whitney Houston, who died of a drug overdose at age 48, Judy Garland died of a drug overdose at age 47 while in the bathroom of a Hotel room. Both of these two tragic deaths at young ages, could have been avoided if there was someone there who cared enough to manage their careers. The other reason is both women married the wrong men, especially in the case of Garland who married Sydney Luft, who then gambled away a good part of her money.

As far as the movie Judy, the only reason to see it is to see the great performance of Rene Zellweger, who is practically a shoe-in for winning the Academy award this year for best actress. I was surprised at the lack of a real story in Judy as most of this film deals with the last few months of Judy Garland’s life and most specifically with her final series of concerts in London England. There are many scenes showing her erratic performances in London, including some where she was drunk and cursed at the audience. The last few years of Garland’s life were the most difficult due to severe money problems that even included being almost homeless with the two children she had with Sydney Luft.

The high ratings for Judy of 83% on Rotten Tomatoes are exclusively about Zellweger’s performance and not about the mostly dull story, and I agree with this rating and recommend this film.

Movie Review: Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice

“Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” is a documentary about the life career and great talent of Linda Ronstadt. With all documentaries and movies about a life in show business, depicting the life of a professional singer, whether or not you have enough talent to ever make it, can be extremely daunting. A successful career in show business is all about gambling with your life and if you fail, you will have to live through many difficult years. We always hear about the few who make it who are always prevalent on TV, movies or social media, but we never hear about the thousands who never give up on their dream, travel the world desperately trying to succeed within a field that very often can be impossible to navigate.

The thing about someone like Linda Ronstadt is, her voice was so rare and powerful that there was no way she could not have made it as one of the best female singers of all time. While watching this documentary I could only wonder how she could have sang in so many concerts, recordings and practice for that many years and did not overuse her voice long before it was finally lost when she contracted Parkinson’s disease in August 2013. While watching this documentary, you just cannot help but admire Linda’s work ethic and sacrifice for so many years.

Ronstadt’s family and Mexican heritage was all about singing, and she developed a strong talent and love for music very early in her life. For someone with this level of talent, becoming a singer who travels the world seemed her destiny from birth. Due to her choice to become a famous singer who travels the world, Ronstadt’s personal life suffered and she was never married or had children. Her most publicized relationship was with the Governor of California, Jerry Brown and she was even engaged to director George Lucas. Now 73 years old and suffering with Parkinson’s, Linda Ronstadt can look back on her great career with satisfaction and pride. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.

This documentary was very well done and includes appearances of many of Linda Ronstadt’s friends in show business, including Dolly Parton and Bonnie Raitt. I highly recommend this film.

Movie Review: Downton Abbey

The simple logline for “Downton Abbey” is: “A huge Hotel/Mansion in the 1930’s is surprised when the King and Queen of England decide to stay there for a few days”. How an idea this trivial has been made into a 2 hour movie is a mystery to me. There are a few side stories along the way to the coma this film creates and they are all equally boring. Downton Abbey was a TV show that ran from 2011-2016 – a show that I never watched and considering how bad this movie was, I never will. I am at a loss to figure out why this movie has such high ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. My only theory is – people are very curious about the lives of Royalty and the extremely wealthy, so it doesn’t matter if there is not much of a story or no story at all.
This movie was a nightmare to sit through that involved constantly checking my watch and even taking the risk of turning on my cell phone. This movie is so boring, with so little story that its almost impossible to even review. In summary, run from this trivial and boring waste of 2 hours.


Movie Review: Ad Astra

Ad Astra is a popular Latin phrase meaning “through hardships to the stars”.

The new movie starring Brad Pitt, “Ad Astra” is mostly about one thing. What would happen to any human being if he or she were traveling in space for a very long period of time, with no hope of ever returning home again?

What the world knows right now is traveling to Mars or further is going to take a huge amount of new technology, and trillions of dollars. Phase one of this new technology will have to address the huge problem of keeping any human being from going insane over months and years of traveling through the nothingness of space. Environment simulators, deep sleep and so many other technologies would be necessary for such a huge undertaking of long term space travel. The realization that the longer you travel away from the earth, would mean that much time again, to ever return home. Long periods of time being confined to small spaces with many hours of little or nothing to do is another problem. Like any person in prison knows, “while you’re in here, there is no place to go”.

As for the film Ad Astra, the story is about an astronaut Roy McBride, played by Brad Pitt trying to rescue his father, Clifford McBride, played by Tommy Lee Jones who is deep in space near Saturn and may have gone insane, along with all in his party – that left earth some 12 years earlier.

I thought this movie was either slow or boring in too many places, because the story is mostly about several mishaps in space as Roy tries to save his father and also prevent power surges that are being emitted from his father’s space ship. I thought the technology behind the power surges did not make much sense, considering the 2.5 billion mile distance from the edge of Saturn to planet Earth. The special effects of this film will remind everyone of “Gravity” from 2013, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. I thought Gravity was a far better movie, that had excellent space special effects along with a better story. Ad Astra tries to make up for a mostly weak story with great special effects and it fails in some areas and succeeds in others.

The Rotten Tomatoes rating for Ad Astra is a solid 82%, but because of the slow moving parts of some of this story, I give this movie only a 75% rating, with a mild recommendation.

Movie Review: Rambo Last Blood

“Rambo Last Blood” has one of the most infuriating scenes I have ever seen in an action movie. Rambo is completely surrounded by about 100 heavily armed members of a drug and sex trafficking cartel headed by two ruthless brothers. Just when they were about to kill Rambo one of the brothers says, “let him go”. In my opinion, this one scene alone is responsible for the 30% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. If there is any one cause that will ruin any screenplay, its the lack of believability. There is no way in one million years, that a violent cartel of 100 armed men would have let John Rambo go within this situation. The scenes leading up to this point also make no sense, as Rambo just walks into a series of buildings where many armed men are standing around. So many movies have done something like this in the past, including too many James Bond movies, and every episode of the 1960’s Batman TV series. The Villain can easily kill the hero by shooting them, but instead, the hero is let go either because of some elaborate and very often ridiculous method of killing them or they escape in some other way only because they are not immediately killed with a gun. In the case of this last Rambo movie, perhaps having Rambo escape by jumping off the building he was captured on would have saved this story, but instead, inexplicably, they just let him go.

Rambo Last Blood is different than all the other Rambo’s in that is not about any war. Its about Rambo saving his niece who has been sold into sex slavery in Mexico. Rambo, played by Sylvester Stallone, who now at age 73 has made 6 Rocky Movies, 5 Rambo movies and 2 Creed movies – the spin off of the 6 Rocky movies. In the history of cinema there has probably never been a longer running and more lucrative series involving 2 characters created by one actor and screenwriter. This new and most likely last Rambo plays more like the movie “Taken” without anywhere near the same level of satisfying ending. As a matter of fact, I did not like the direction this movie takes, especially the ending, which like the last Rambo in 2008, was far too unnecessarily violent. This last Rambo was made for the embedded box office due to name recognition, and not for quality like the last Rocky movie released in 2006, which was a very good film. All of this is very unfortunate, especially because most of this could have been fixed with about another few weeks of rewrites of the screenplay.

Overall, I agree with the low rating of 30% on Rotten Tomatoes and do not recommend Rambo Last Blood.


Movie Review: Official Secrets

Some of the best movies ever released, are those that are true stories that fill in the gaps in world history. The new movie “Official Secrets” is about what happened in early 2003, when the United States and England were collaborating to fabricate reasons to invade Iraq, that the world now realizes was an “illegal war”.

The reasons for invading Iraq in March 2003 were many, but the most prevalent was revenge for the 2001 Terrorist attacks that caused the worst civilian casualties on American soil in this history of the United States. However revenge for mass murder on American soil is not an valid and legal reason to invade another country. A massive and collaborative effort began with England and the United States to convince the UN security council that Iraq had to be invaded and Saddaam Hussein removed from power before he could use his destructive weapons.

The final solution to finding an excuse to invade Iraq, repeated many hundreds of times, was that “Iraq had weapons of mass destruction”. During a speech in front of the UN security Council Secretary of State Colin Powell, pleaded with the UN to allow the United States and England to invade Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction. Colin Powell now considers this one moment, the worst in his entire career, because Iraq never had any of the weapons Powell was talking about.

The story of Official Secrets starts with a government agent in England, Katharine Gun, played by Keira Knightley whose job was to scan emails and translate messages, looking for possible information that could be used by the spy agencies of England. A single email was scanned one day, that suggested that a reason to invade Iraq was being fabricated by both England and the United States. Rather than ignoring this message, Katherine, realizing that she could possibly stop an illegal war and prevent the deaths of thousands of people, decided to send this email message to the press. The story that followed was all about politics, and the difference between doing the right thing no matter what the cost, or just doing your job.

This movie does an excellent job of showing this low point in the history of both the United States and England, like no other movie I have seen about this embarrassing incident from the year 2003. The legal ramifications and politics involved were also very well portrayed and fascinating throughout the two hours.

The Rotten Tomatoes rating for Official Secrets is a very solid 80% and I agree with this rating and recommend this film.

Movie Review: Hustlers

The movie “Hustlers” is one of the very few movies since “The Big Short” that is about the 2008 financial crisis that almost drove the entire world into a Great Depression worse than the one in 1929. Anyone interested in learning about what happened in 2008 should see the Big Short – which is a great movie, definitely not this film.

The easy money that was made during the DOT COM bubble that peaked in March 2000 indirectly caused the real estate bubble that started in September 2007. Corporations and individuals who lost fortunes in 2000 were looking to get it all back, starting in 2003 and as a result, financial restrictions were lifted and criminals were allowed to ruin the economies of the world due to their greed. The more easy money that was made, the stupider people became, thinking that the party would never end. Not only did it all end, were it not for the bailouts that started in 2008 the financial health of the world might have ended forever. The long term effects of the damage the 2008 financial crisis have been ongoing for millions of people around the world ever since. Due to the National Debt of the United States, now 22 trillion, largely due to the bailouts, the world might never fully recover from the repercussions of what happened in 2008.

Hustlers is a true story about a group of strippers who work at a strip club frequented by Wall Street employees who in the year 2007, like most of the world, were doing fantastically well within a fake economy driven by the insanity of the real estate bubble. Once the bubble burst, the easy money stopped for everyone, including all of the women who work at this strip club. The lead stripper is Ramona played by Jennifer Lopez, who eventually leads the group of women astray. For Lopez, this is one of her few serious roles in many years and while her performance is good in this film, nothing about this movie deserves the very high 87% on Rotten Tomatoes. More in line, due to the story and the acting is the 5.8 rating on IMDB.

After the easy money ended, a group of strippers, lead by Ramona decided to trick and then drug men. Once they were unconscious, they stole their credit cards to steal cash advances. Given that this is a true story, I was surprised at the number of men who fell victim to this, despite the blackmail and embarrassment involved. I thought the story did a good job showing the desperation of these women who needed money so badly, that they rationalized a crime like this, thinking that, “these are the men who stole money from so many people, so we can steal from them”. This movie also does a good job showing the horrendous life of most of these strippers who degrade themselves in clubs like this only to have so much of their money stolen from them by criminal club owners.

The Rotten Tomatoes rating for Hustlers is a very high 87%, but my rating is only 70%. Once again, there was way too much chain smoking in this movie, mostly with Lopez’s character – another thing I did not like about this film. I give Hustlers only a very mild recommendation, mainly because it is a true story that happened as a result of the 2008 financial crisis.

Movie Review: Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles

The new documentary “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” has an extremely rare rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and for that reason, I saw this film.

What almost everybody knows about the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”, is that it is just about the most popular and most performed musical in the world. Just about all the songs from this play are immediately recognizable to everyone, most especially, “I wish I were a rich man”. What this very good documentary shows is the history of this world renowned play that has its roots in Jewish culture, including even the Holocaust. This documentary shows the play’s derivations from a famous story based on the works of Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916) . I thought this documentary was very well done, including the many interviews from some famous people who have performed in this musical, including Linn Manuel Miranda.

I recommend this documentary, but my rating is more in the 80% range, with a solid recommendation.

Movie Review: It: Chapter 2

For “It : Chapter 2” the money was there from the first installment “IT” – released in 2017. When the box office is there from the first IT – the producers can hire well known actors including Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and Bill Hader, knowing that there is a certain amount of guaranteed money because of the first movie. What is missing here, unfortunately, is a good screenplay.

This sequel starts almost full 30 years after the first one ended, where 7 friends that call themselves “The Losers” reunite because of a pact they made after they killed Pennywise the Clown, played very well by Bill Skarsgård. The pact was, “should Pennywise ever return again, we will come together again to kill him”. The first problem here was the horrible way Pennywise comes back again, in the aftermath of a gay hate crime that was way too violent and unnecessary – especially considering the overall story. This movie has several gay bashing scenes that are bad enough to create some backlash from the gay community. Why have so many scenes like this in a horror movie, what is the point? There are also horrendous scenes of extreme violence and death with small children, also part of the first film – and once again should never have been included in this sequel.

The rest of this film seems to be a series of visual and very violent excuses to show each one of the friends as they retrieve tokens from their past to kill Pennywise with some strange final ritual and the final conclusion is way too similar to the one in the previous movie.

The ratings for IT: Chapter 2 are a below average 66% – and because of the bad story and horrendous unnecessary violence, my rating is only 50% and I do not recommend this film.

Movie Review: Brittany Runs a Marathon

There are no better movies than the few that take a true story about a very average person who is living a real life and turns that story into something not only entertaining but relatable, and at times, very funny. Brittany, played extremely well by comic actress Jillian Bell, is living in a garbage apartment in New York City, is broke, fat, depressed, down on her luck and in general her life is a total disaster. How many of us can relate to a reality like this and one of the best lines is “all of us are f’ed up Brittany”.

There are several very funny moments in this movie and one of my favorites was a conversation Brittany has with a salesman at a gym trying to sell her membership for $128 a month. Her response, “you mean I could walk outside and get exercise for free or pay, how much again, to work out here?”

As with all well done transition movies like this one, Brittany’s transformation from an overweight depressed mess into someone who is capable of running a marathon is within itself a great tribute to the true story this film is about. Running a marathon is an extremely challenging thing to do, most especially from someone who is almost obese – and whose entire life is a disaster. Training like this involves hard work for months, and with the help of two close friends Brittany becomes obsessed with this goal of running the NYC Marathon, to the point that nothing else matters in her entire life.

There are so many great things about this movie, starting with the humor; despite Brittany’s depressing life, the great writing and following Brittany through the trials of her money problems, multiple bad jobs and condescending, nasty roommate who seems to derive pleasure from Brittany’s many miseries.  Welcome to real life for so many people in this world.

The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for Brittany Runs a Marathon are an outstanding 91% and in my opinion this is one of the best movies of 2019 and it receives my highest recommendation.  This film should also receive a best picture nomination along with a best actress nomination for Jillian Bell.